The Street Sweeper

One more for Morocco

 

An angled Arab in a jellaba
as long as the Berber sun and with
tea-stained teeth the color of burnt sand,
stands unlooked at by foreign shoppers
because they all know that eye contact
is a contract that even a shy smile
cannot unbind. They see rugs, cheap jewelry.

The Arab tells a bowl of fish heads
here are more tourists. Another man
pulls a palm frond as bent as his back
over meat scraps, breadcrumbs, and poverty,
sweeping the King’s official decrees
and doubts of his Mohammedan descent
secretly beneath the dusty stones in the souk.

He stands and says bonjour to the kids
(the first guess is always for the French)
But the Americans say assalam
and the students and the Arab find
a few forgotten teeth to frame their
halfshared tongue. They eat the shopkeeper’s
small deceit in the heat of Moorish June.

The price of a dim
dented teapot
diminishes
quickly.

A cat mews and woos the noon-hot bowl
of fish heads but is sent running and spits
its hisses at a moped whose engine
ascends to match the unseen muezzin
his patient call having made its pact with
the long-gowned crowd, reaching unlikely speeds
beneath thin streets and stubborn burqas.

Honey drips long
from a tower of sweets,
making drunk those bees
not already too heavy to fly.

Under the new moon of Al-Andalus
white women weigh the lure of the beach
against what risk they know exists and try
not to be fooled by trust earned in the sun.
A dutiful and deep-eyed olive ibn
is scraping the caramel crust from abu’s table,
closing shop in time for one more prayer.

The Final Bone

Earlier is better.

You can read the cold
in the austerity of porchlights
and the white soul of maple bark
that makes a shy shiver
when it guesses which star
might love it back.

But I am all halogen high beams
in this poor morning.
The final bone of an unwelcome skeleton
that won’t leave its ghost alone.

And here in the city –
with none of the long-sung
undone thunder of somewhere
less given to the living –
I am stung by lone red lights
and the odd mid-block walker
made bold by the madness
of his addictions.

Still.
He moves on.
I do all the stopping.

Yes

Don’t look back

God has taken from us the sun 
which loving was too much like firefly July, 
watching our brother kiss the girl 
we were too little to love 
but loved
with cloying loyalty anyway.

A name in a notebook 
and the little electric leavings 
	of her path across our sky.

But must we just go sunless sad, 
wearing moods like wet vestments 
at a mirthless service? 

		No!
 
We kick wet leaves 
on the cooling coals of long November
and hoist such a hard, proud December 
that our summerlost girl 
- hand still in rival’s hand - 
turns in a wistful flourish 
to look back once upon us 
and wish that she 
were half so free 
as we.

Why the Gods Stopped Answering

On being careful what you wish for.

In a year that started with three months of march
the gods of the globe met a girl on a Hill,
fit with ambition and requests for the rights
of all of the people to be equally filled.

Great Zeus consulted the God of Abraham
and Mohammed added a surah or two.
Buddha nodded his silent approval
and Brahma saw it the right thing to do.

The wish was granted, her prayers were answered
and equality had been wholly ordained.
But the protester gathered her high-lettered signs
and marched, in her hat, right back out again.

Zeus looked at God and said “What’s this about?”
while angry Mohammed drew out his blade.
Buddha sat down and Om’d ‘til he shook,
Brahma wondered what mistake they had made.

The young woman said you’ve all done so well
in answering my prayers and granting my wish.
but by making my purpose so neatly complete
you’ve presented my hunger a cold, empty dish.

They watched her smartly set out for the heart
of the love that only they could create.
With a burgeoning army she chanted and marched
‘til she raised a new devil from an angelic state.

So Zeus and the God of Abraham shrugged.
Mohammed’s scimitar furrowed the dirt.
Buddha looked to have tuned it all out,
and Brahma just picked at a stain on his shirt.

What Just Happened?

I know Glenn Reynolds isn’t exactly siting around wondering why I haven’t thanked him yet. At the rate things go over at Instapundit, I’m sure he’s already forgotten my piece that he happened to stumble upon and chose to link. Check these stats – I’m not exactly on the internet’s radar:

Instalanche Capture

The spike at the end, last weekend, was my little Instalanche moment. The feel of celebrity is a little electrifying, yes (more views in a day than in the 10 previous years. COMBINED). But honestly, there was some grime in the mix. A dirty little feeling of wondering whether I actually said something intelligent, relevant, and meaningful, or was simply chumming the waters like most everyone else. I suppose it’s all a little of both, and for now I’m happy to slide back into obscurity, sweating out an over-sentimental poem or two when the hours become available.

My sincere thanks to Glenn and everyone at Instapundit, and especially to my long-time almost mentor Gerard, whose fault this whole thing really is, anyway. Thank you also to each and every one of my followers – whether you’ve been here for years or joined up over the fruitful weekend. People say things like “You write for yourself,” but I’ve always thought that was bullshit. I do it for you. All 80 of you , haha.

IMG_2742

Signs! Signs!

In which we examine the subtext of our expressions.

iu82DJHH9FOk, so you’ve put this sign up in front of your house. I can’t find anything to disagree with here.  That’s part of the point though, I know. It’s not terribly deep, the sarcasm implicit in the plain truth of the statements. If you don’t believe these things (and honestly, I’m still looking for someone who doesn’t), then you are The Problem.

It’s creepy how these signs act as ID badges, too, because what about your neighbors, who haven’t put up a sign? What are you saying about them? If I stand on the sidewalk and look first at their house, and then at yours, I have to make a judgment, don’t I? I’m obviously looking at two different kinds of households. At least that’s what your sign is telling me.

And what if your neighbor does put one up? And then the neighbor on the other side of you puts one up, too? Then everyone on the street follows suit? And then the coffee shops and dry cleaners? What am I to believe about the state of my world after a quick jaunt around your block? What can I believe about a world that needs signs like that? And so many? I can only believe that it is a hard, cruel place. That your house, your street, your hood, is the exception, not the rule. A tiny island of kindness in an ocean of violence and hate. Which is the opposite of the truth. The truth of our world, our country especially, is that we are a vast ocean of goodness, with (unfortunately but unavoidably) islands of despair. I would give anything to start shifting public recognition in that direction. But I guess that why I write poems. I digress…

These signs, to put it simply, are why the world seems meaner, not  kinder. Because of what they are saying, silently, about all the spaces where they aren’t. The accusations they are leveling at the world around them.

 

Side note, on the “Love is Love” part: I had a lit class a couple of yeas ago in which the going doctrine was that Shakespeare and his sonnets were gay (queer, whatever I’m given permission to say). Now, lawd hammercy, I can’t remember which sonnet, but the professor mentioned one of them that was popular at weddings. Her point was that, because it was Shakespeare professing his love to another man, it was hilarious that so many straight couples have had it read at their weddings. This of course revealed her to be kind of a bitter and angry person, enjoying the inadvertent embarrassment of others. But also I couldn’t help thinking:

It’s a love poem. If you believe that love is love, there’s nothing to laugh at.

The Hordes of the Invisible

It’s all leading to a mass grave of chickens and eggs.

I get a little thrown sometimes when I realize that I don’t know what things are like anywhere else. I don’t know the vibe in New York or the gestalt in Topeka. I don’t know what Floridians see when they walk down the street. I just don’t know much about how people measure their worlds outside of my own, and have to guard against the tendency to assume that what I know about my home applies everywhere.

I do know what it’s like here. And it’s strange. Seattle. It’s like touching something and not knowing right away whether it’s absolutely searingly hot, or skin-shatteringly cold, because there’s hints of both in the pain. We’re awash in activism. Utterly drowning in it. There isn’t a shop window that isn’t plastered with flyers for this march or that proclamation or that protest. Every author reading at every “local” bookstore – nota bene: everything is local, people. Absolutely everything. it only depends on where you’re standing – every reading is this cultural expression or that identity group’s response to something, or a statement of “this is me climbing proudly out of this miserable social/cultural prison.” In every instance it is billed, at least implicitly, in its subtext, as an exception. A rare opportunity. A victory over something. But you can’t have victory without competition, and you can’t have competition without an opponent, and so without realizing it, the movement itself ossifies the necessity of the opponent.

If you’re still listening to the subtext, you know that here it says that none who suffer do so as a result of their own failings. It is that whatever the nature of their suffering may have been – “invisibility” is a popular one, as well as the closely-related “marginalization,” and of course any word  with “phobia” trailing from its backside like some undigested serpent that can never quite be pinched free – whatever the suffering, these are people who not only are/were down, but were put there, intentionally and perniciously, and are now rising up in spite of “the dominant culture’s” efforts to keep them down. But this raises a question or two for me:

1. Who is the dominant culture?

As far as I can tell, they are. The sign makers, the book writers, the painters and poets. They’re everywhere. But if their claim is that they are resisting the dominant culture, who is it that’s putting them down? In light of their inescapable pervasiveness and influence, are they even down at all? If so, who is trying to keep them there?  Not the athletes and CEO’s – they’re all on board and applauding. They’re hosting fundraisers and lending their celebrity to “awareness.” (Show me, by the way, the unaware. There must be an odd colony of them somewhere that eats garden slugs and are too cut off from civilization to have heard of sexism or Old White Males or Macklemore). Corporations have more people in subcommittees working on fair hiring and balancing corporate skin tones than they have working on their actual bottom lines. Are the oppressors the shopkeepers and their customers, who block out the sun with their storefront virtue signals, and curse the planet-eating Republicans over cupcakes as they wipe pureed kale from their baby’s Che Guevara onesie? Can’t be the teachers and the principals (sorry “Heads of School,” as we can’t say “principal” anymore, and I honestly don’t know why), because they’re as helpful as can be. They organize days for students to leave school to protest climate and corporations (I always thought the protest was supposed to reflect the issue being protested. When I skipped classes, it was to protest school), they encourage multicultural literature and literacy, and are leading the way on efforts for diversity and inclusion. And of course the media and the universities, as well as the music and movie industry, they’re so obviously on the right side of this thing that I don’t need to say any more about them.

In short, every single representation of power and influence of any kind, is dominated by the spirit of charity, inclusion, and diversity. They are populated, organized, and run by people of, to quote Roger Waters, “every race, creed, color, tint, or hue.” So where are these oppressors? If the so-called “invisible” are not the dominant culture, then why are they the only ones I can see?

2. Given all this – given the undeniable momentum and power of movements towards fairness and righteousness and equality, given the ubiquity of this movement in every single aspect and institution of this city, how is it possible that it still feels like such an awful, intolerant, racist, sexist, Islamophobic, homophobic, anti-indigenous (sorry if I missed anyone) hell hole of a city?

The answer to that is actually pretty simple. The misery, the injustice, doesn’t exist in spite of all the social justice activism, it exists because of it. And truthfully, as my own subtext from the preceding paragraphs indicates, it doesn’t actually exist at all. The world, this city, as I walk around in it, is simply not in its actions a racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic place. But my God it feels like it, and the activists (or the media, but I repeat myself) won’t have it any other way. What does exist, in a fetid curtain as thick as the sad salmon hauled from the poison Duwamish, is the idea of injustice. The haunting spectre of it. And they have all – high and low, black and white, gay and straight, on and on – risen up in their holy alliance against it, not realizing how adept they have been, all the while, at creating their own need for it. Students are rewarded for writing about it. They are given extra credit for attending poetry readings about it. Their social capital portfolios are almost wholly dependent upon the growth of it. Resist and you’re in. Don’t and you’re dead. It’s a sinister little perpetual motion machine, eating from its own toilet to survive, and knowing on some instinctive, subconscious (dare I say invisible?) level, that achieving its stated purpose would only eliminate its only fuel source.

How oppressed they would feel if someone took their oppressors away!

So no, maybe I don’t know what the rest of the world, or the country, or even the state of Washington looks like. But I do know Seattle. I’m in it on several levels every day. It’s a much nicer, much friendlier, much fairer place individually than the collective seems to want me or anyone else to notice. But I do notice. I certainly hope more people begin to as well. Because all this rallying towards disharmony creates the sensory confusion I mentioned in the beginning. Too hot or too cold? It’s impossible to know, because it encourages an ever-deepening degree of personal guardedness that prevents anyone from staying close enough to each other to find out.